Ken de la Bastide column: Campaign finance reports need more transparency | Columns

The buzzword during this year’s primary season has been transparency.

It’s not a new subject when it comes to the public’s business.

Local residents deserve the right to access information on the internet for government units, agendas for upcoming meetings and who to contact for assistance.

Unfortunately, Indiana’s election laws have a clear problem with transparency when it comes to finance reports filed for city, state and county offices.

Election campaign finance reports that are filed with the county clerk’s office or at the Indiana Secretary of State’s office are meant to show residents where a particular candidate has received contributions and how those funds are spent.

At the federal level every contribution — no matter the amount — must include the contributor’s name and address.

The Federal Election Commission also requires a detailed list of expenditures so citizens can determine how those funds are being spent.

Both state and federal laws require that political action committees whether it be a business, trade organization, political group or citizens file campaign finance reports.

The problem with the Indiana election law is that it allows a candidate or campaign committee to include non-itemized contributions on their fiscal reports.

In some cases, these are large sums of donations with no public transparency or accountability.

State law mandates that any contribution of $100 or more include the name and address of the person or company making the donation.

When donations are lumped into the line item on the finance report as non-itemized, no one knows where the money came from or the amounts provided.

It has been common on local finance reports for a candidate to list as an itemized donation the amount of money raised at a particular fundraiser.

Most media outlets tend to check the campaign finance reports for several reasons.

Regarding the amount raised by a candidate and who was the contributor: Was it a company doing business with a government entity hoping to retain or obtain contracts in the future?

There is a similar problem with expenditures.

A candidate might state he has spent a certain amount of money, but the list of expenditures doesn’t match.

The math doesn’t work.

How much did a candidate, campaign committee, political party or political action committee spend?

The amount spent should be equal on the summary page and the expense report and coincide with the remaining cash on hand.

The transparency problem at the state level when it comes to contributions and expenditures by a political campaign is an easy fix.

All it will take is the members of the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation to no longer allow non-itemized contributions on finance reports and a more detailed outline of expenditures.

The reporting requirements for campaign finance can be changed, but only if the citizens of Indiana ask their legislators to support such a measure.